Mike Ashley has refused his summons to parliament, accusing the MPs that have been investigating Sports Direct of ‘showboating’.
Following an investigation by The Guardian, it emerged that staff at the Sports Direct Shirebrook warehouse were effectively earning below minimum wage. Since then Ashley, owner and founder of Sports Direct, has consistently reiterated an invitation to MPs to inspect the site, along with “all forms of media”.
He was accused of trying to “avoid public scrutiny” by the Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Iain Wright MP. Ashley was summoned to appear before parliament on 7 June, but he has officially refused.
“I do not pretend to get everything right all of the time, but I am not willing to stand idle while this company is subjected to public vilification which is against the best interests of everybody who works at Sports Direct,” said Ashley, in an uncharacteristically long statement.
“My current intention is that I will not attend Westminster on June 7 as I believe the proposal by Iain Wright (whom I have offered to meet in Shirebrook) is an abuse of the parliamentary process.”
It is true that holding someone in contempt of parliament is an action not carried out by the government since 1666, and when Ashley was threatened with such an outcome spectators were unsure exactly what it would entail.
At the same time, Ashley has long been infamous for refusing to show his face around legal proceedings to do with Sports Direct. In 2015 when asked to appear before the Scottish Affairs Select Committee he instead sent his chairman, who failed to provide satisfactory answers when questioned about Sports Direct’s business practices.
“They clearly don’t care about the people at Sports Direct, “Ashley continued. “In my opinion, they are actually a joke. They don’t care about people, they care about the business of politics.”
Soon after The Guardian published its findings, Ashley vowed to investigate and improve conditions himself. He insisted that no workers at the Shirebrook warehouse has zero hours contracts, and that the bottlenecks resulting from security searches, which forced workers to stay after their shifts ended for no additional pay, had been fixed.
“With the new phase of the warehouse opening up, the exits in the building are something like ten times the size they were before.
You can now process people in literally a couple of minutes.”
In the face of an increasingly impatient committee it remains to be seen whether Ashley’s solutions will be taken as adequate, given his determination not to answer for his business’s misconduct in a legal setting.